The theory of japanese stab binding

…or at least how I understand it. I’ve had many questions since I began posting my own Japanese stab bind designs: about how I create them, the thought process behind the designs and sewing mechanisms, the tools I use, etc. I’ll break down my personal process in another post; for this one I want to explain some of the basics for those of you just starting out in the world of bookbinding and are looking for a style that allows for incredible expression.

If you have researched bookbinding at all, you will have most likely come across the basic Japanese stab bind (JSB). It looks like this: four holes, four wraps around the spine, and a wrap around each edge.

Fold line
The most import part of the traditional JSB to remember is what I call the ‘fold line’. This is made by the holes that are farthest away from the spine, or closest to the content on the inside of your book. It is vital that they be in a straight line, otherwise your book will end up with a crooked fold and the cover will be more likely to tear.

Having thread run along the fold line is helpful because it keeps the cover from tearing off as easily – there is more surface for the cover to bend against, instead of just single holes. It also keeps with the traditional JSB look. I’ve only sewn a handful of binds that didn’t have thread reinforcing the fold line, but the holes were even.

“Butterfly” bind.

Edges and spine
It isn’t absolutely necessary to include the edge wraps, but good practice to do so. If you have a tendency to sew loosely, or if you ever have trouble making your knot tight enough, it is important to include the edge wraps. They also help with reinforcing the fold line, and keep the book together better. The spine needs to always have some kind of wrap. As you can see from the example binds in this post, there are numerous ways to do this.

Holes
The absolute minium of necessary holes would be one hole…but you would end up with a fairly wobbly and shaky book and your design would be limited to a triangle. Two holes would still create a weak bind, but if the book were quite small, or had only a few pages, it would probably work. But good news: there is no maximum limit to how many holes your design can have, and it doesn’t matter if it is an even or an odd number. You are only limited by your patience, persistence, and stamina when it comes to drilling all of those holes! I would say my patterns have an average of 30 holes each.

“Crocus” has 53 holes.

**A potential problem area is how close your holes are to each other…the closer they are, the more likely your book block will rip when you pull the thread tight. And NOTHING is more disheartening than when that happens! I try to keep my holes at least .25″ (or 7 mm) apart. On occasion I will place them closer, but I then sew the book very, very carefully.

Process
This is where it gets a bit complicated to explain by using words and not physically demonstrating (maybe one day I’ll try to create a video tutorial).

The traditional JSB with 4 holes has the sewing start at hole #2. But if you have a complicated design, it’s easier to start at the very edge.  The central objective of JSB is to sew your entire bind while never repeating the same line; in other words, never having two threads between the same two holes.


To achieve this, you essentially sew half of the design in one direction, then at the halfway mark you return back to the start by sewing the pattern in reverse. You must get the concept “over-under-over-under”…then, “under-over-under-over” firmly in your mind. This is fairly easy to figure out on a geometric pattern – and it can become convoluted with an organic/non-geometric design very rapidly! The ease or difficulty is very much dependent on what the design is and who is sewing it.

For example, below is “mushroom”, which is a geometric pattern with 5 repeats. The first ‘mushroom’ segment is completed before the second is begun. In fact, because of the gap between each segment, each mushroom is sewn exactly the same way. If they had been touching at the fold line, the needle direction of the second mushroom would have been completely opposite of the first (every ‘enter’ would become an ‘exit’). The third mushroom would have been like the first, the fourth like the second, etc.

In “peacock”, an organic pattern, the sewing starts in the middle, creating the feather’s rachis first, then the center circles, then the final circle with fringe coming off of it. It looks complicated, but once you have mastered the concept of ‘over-under-over under,’ it isn’t too difficult to figure out.

“Woven” is an exception to the rule: it is a geometric pattern, but the sewing actually goes from one side to the other and back again just to complete one ‘V’ shape. But the edges and the sides still use the ‘over-under-over-under’ approach.

======
Early in my experimenting I decided that straight perpendicular lines by themselves were boring. I figured out that the spine could be wrapped with a ‘V’ shape by crossing one loop with another previous loop (or loops). So far the only shape that seems impossible is a circle, but I’m working on it!

I hope this is helpful. If you ever run into a snag with your own pattern or design (or with one of mine) send me an email. And send pictures of your creations, I would love to see!

japanese stab binding tutorial: butterfly

Dedicated to former adviser, Robert…I know you miss my ‘butterfly’ days… :)

An intermediate bind with a difficult hole pattern.

**click on an image to enlarge**

hole pattern

sewing pattern

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1, (leave a tail but don’t knot it) wrap around right edge, enter 1 again
exit 2
enter 3
exit 4
enter 5
exit 6
enter 7
exit 8
enter 5
exit 8
enter 7
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4
enter 3
exit 2
enter 6
exit 2
enter 1
exit 9
enter 3
exit 10
enter 5
exit 10
enter 3
exit 9
enter 11
exit 12
enter 10
exit 12
enter 5
exit 12
enter 13
exit 14
enter 13
exit 12
enter 14
exit 5
enter 14
exit 8
enter 14
exit 15
enter 7
exit 15
enter 16, wrap around spine at an angle to below 19, enter 16 again
exit 15
enter 14, wrap around spine, point needle to the right, thread needle through loop from 16, enter 14 again
exit 17
enter 18
exit 16
enter 19
exit 17
enter 19
exit 16
enter 18
exit 17
enter 14
exit 20, wrap around spine at an angle to below 21, exit 20 again
enter 14
exit 12
enter 21
exit 22
enter 23
exit 24
enter 23
exit 25
enter 23
exit 22
enter 21
exit 26
enter 25
exit 27
enter 25
exit 26
enter 21
exit 28
enter 29
exit 30
enter 31 wrap around left edge, enter 31 again
exit 32
enter 33
exit 34
enter 35
exit 36
enter 37
exit 38
enter 35
exit 38
enter 37
exit 36
enter 32
exit 36
enter 35
exit 34
enter 33
exit 32
enter 31
exit 30
enter 33
exit 39
enter 35
exit 39
enter 33
exit 30
enter 29
exit 28
enter 39
exit 28
enter 35
exit 28
enter 40
exit 41
enter 40
exit 28
enter 41
exit 35
enter 41
exit 38
enter 41
exit 42
enter 37
exit 42
enter 43, wrap around spine at angle to below 46, enter 43 again
exit 42
enter 41, thread needle through loop from 43, point needle to the left, enter 41 again
exit 44
enter 45
exit 43
enter 46
exit 44
enter 46
exit 43
enter 45
exit 44
enter 41
exit 47, wrap around spine, thread needle through loop from 20, point needle right, exit 47 again
enter 41
exit 28
enter 21
exit 12
enter 11
exit 9
tie off with tail from 1

japanese stab binding tutorial: kissing fish

An intermediate bind, easy hole pattern. Leave a comment if you have a specific tutorial you would like to see next.

**click on an image to enlarge**

hole pattern

sewing pattern

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1, leave a tail but don’t knot it, wrap around right edge
enter 1 again, wrap around right edge at angle across from 2
enter 1 again
exit 2
enter 3, wrap around right edge, thread needle through loop from 1, point up
enter 3 again
wrap around right edge, enter 3 again
exit 4
enter 5
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4, wrap around spine at an angle to below 7, exit 4 again
enter 3, wrap around spine at an angle to below 7, enter 3 again
exit 2
enter 1
exit 6
enter 7
exit 4
enter 7
exit 6
enter 8
exit 7
enter 10
exit 7
enter 8
exit 9
enter 10, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 4 and 3, point right
enter 10 again
exit 11, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 4 and 3, point left
exit 11 again
enter 12
exit 13
enter 12
exit 11, wrap around spine to an angle below 14, exit 11 again
enter 10, wrap around spine to an angle below 14, enter 10 again
exit 9
enter 8
exit 13
enter 14
exit 11
enter 14
exit 13
enter 15
exit 14
enter 17
exit 14
enter 15
exit 16
enter 17, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 11 and 10, point right
enter 17 again
exit 18, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 11 and 10, point left
exit 18 again
enter 19
exit 20
enter 19
exit 18, wrap around spine to an angle below 21, exit 18 again
enter 17, wrap around spine to an angle below 21, enter 17 again
exit 16
enter 15
exit 20
enter 21
exit 18
enter 21
exit 20
enter 22
exit 21
enter 24
exit 21
enter 22
exit 23
enter 24, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 18 and 17, point right
enter 24 again
exit 25, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 18 and 17, point left
exit 25 again
enter 26
exit 27
enter 26
exit 25, wrap around spine to an angle below 28, exit 25 again
enter 24, wrap around spine to an angle below 28, enter 24 again
exit 23
enter 22
exit 27
enter 28
exit 25
enter 28
exit 27
enter 29
exit 28
enter 31
exit 28
enter 29
exit 30
enter 31, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 25 and 24, point right
enter 31 again
exit 32, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 25 and 24, point left
exit 32 again
wrap around left edge, exit 32 again
wrap around left edge to an angle across from 33, exit 32 again
enter 33
exit 34, wrap around left edge, thread needle through loop from 32, point down
exit 34 again
wrap around left edge, exit 34 again
enter 33
exit 32
enter 31
exit 30
enter 29
exit 34
enter 29
exit 27
enter 22
exit 20
enter 15
exit 13
enter 8
exit 6, tie off with tail from 1